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Sundance Creativity -- Poetry Journals and Contests


Like most everything else on the internet, there are thousands of sites offering to publish your poems "for free", running contests (maybe with a fee per entry) or offering advice for young or unpublished writers. It is a good idea to approach most any offer on the internet with a degree of caution. After all, with the right know-how, anybody can have a web page, but that doesn't make them an expert on a particular subject.

Sundance Creativity is run by a group of people who have been involved in poetry and publishing for over 9 years. We have worked with hundreds of writers through our online poetry journal, Avalon, have published chapbooks and short story collections, and are actively involved in the online writers' community. We can guide you to the best places on the world wide web that will nuture your poetic side with care.


One could not begin to count all the web pages with a few poems on them. That does not qualify one as a "poetry journal". If you are serious about getting published and building a resume of credits, look for the online versions of well-known print journals. Refer to The 1999 Poets' Market for the best collection of journals, zines and publishers, then seek them out online. Also, lurking in the poetry newsgroups will alert you to many high-quality online publications seeking submissions.

Once you find a poetry journal online, check out the site thoroughly. READ the poems on the site. Get an understanding of what kind of poetry the editor prefers before you send in your submission. A site dedicated to surrealist expression might not appreciate your Shakespearean sonnet. Look around at everything; if the site is poorly designed or has that "thrown-together" look, this might not be the place for you to get exposure as a poet. Find out how well-known and well-visited the site is. Don't rely on just their hit counter -- where do they come up in search engine rankings? Have you seen banner ads or other links promoting their site? If they have a print edition, what's the circulation?

When you choose a site or journal, be sure to read their submission guidelines carefully. Some may have strict requirements for how poems should be submitted. Be sure you know:

  1. Are poems accepted by email? If so, do they want your text as an attachment, and what kind of document? Or should it be part of the email itself? Do they accept HTML email or plain text?
  2. If submitting by snail mail, do you need to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for their reply or for return of your originals?
  3. Is there a limit to the number of poems you can include in one submission?
  4. Should you include a cover letter describing your credits, the themes of your work, or other information?
  5. Do they want your bio now, or only when your poetry has been accepted?
  6. What is their policy regarding simultaneous submissions? Some editors prefer that the poem in front of them is not being evaluated at the same time by any other editor.
  7. Do they want only previously unpublished poems? If there is no indication, be honest and note in your submission if a poem has been published before, and where.

When you're ready to send in your submission, be sure to TRIPLE check the spelling in your poem and your message. Some editors have been known to reject a piece on the basis of spelling errors alone, regardless of content. If spelling isn't your strong suit, don't rely only on your word processor's spell-check; it may not catch words that sound alike but have different spellings for different meanings. Have your poems checked by someone you trust to be honest with you.

Once the submission is made, be patient. A response may take a few days or a few weeks, depending on the journal. Some editors do not send rejection notices; they will only notify you if your poem will be published. Check the guidelines for an indication of typical response time. If after that amount of time plus a week, you have not received a response, send a friendly, brief and casual note of inquiry. If there is still no reply, let it go. The journal may not be accepting poems at this time, or the editor doesn't feel comfortable writing rejections.

While we are assembling our own index of recommended online poetry journals, you can browse Yahoo's page of poetry magazines, which gives you a list of high quality online and print journals. Also check out's large list of online lit zines and anthologies.

And, of course, Avalon, a print journal for six years, is now published exclusively on-line. We are interested in publishing new writers, and all styles are accepted.


The same rule applies to contests as it does to journals -- find out everything you can about the contest organizer. Beware of contests that promise big cash prizes or high-profile publication; think of the resources necessary to offer such a prize, and also ask yourself if your skills are up to par for intense competition. Most reputable contests offer two kinds of prizes:
PUBLICATION: A chapbook or other collection of your work, inclusion in an anthology, or your work featured in a special issue of their journal.
CASH: You can expect anywhere from $20, $50, to a few hundred dollars in prizes. Some competitions may be for writing grants from a university or other organization, and should be considered by the serious poet only.

As always, read the application and guidelines thoroughly:

  1. Is the contest limited to a certain theme, or a specific style of poetry?
  2. Are there requirements for length (usually number of lines) to each poem?
  3. Is the contest judging individual poems, or a collection of work?
  4. How many poems can you submit in a single entry? Some contests may allow you to send multiple submissions of one poem each, while others require one submission of a certain number of poems.
  5. If submissions are to be sent by mail, some contests set out strict guidelines for how the poem should be presented. For example, one contest may require that each page have the poet's name, number of lines to the poem, and submission date in the top right hand corner.
  6. Is your submission carefully typed on plain white paper? Have you triple-checked for spelling errors and typos?

Be sure you meet ALL the guidelines set forth by the contest judges, and have your entry in before the deadline.

In some circles there is a lot of controversy over charging an entry fee for a poetry contest. Personally, we know of several respectable poetry journals that charge an entry fee just to cover the enormous amount of time and energy it takes to sort through, read and judge entries in a popular contest. Some contests may rely on the entry fees in order to accumulate the cash prize amount. If you have thoroughly checked out the contest sponsor, publisher or individual, you shouldn't be overly concerned about enclosing a dollar or two with your entry.

One last word on poetry contests: If it is advertised in the back of a popular national magazine that is NOT dedicated to poetry, we do not consider it worthy of a moment's contemplation from ANY poet, published or unpublished. In those types of contests, you can be sure that everybody wins, and then receives a sales pitch to buy anthologies, plaques, cassette tapes, and other "rewards" for their poetic achievement.

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This page last updated September 26, 1999

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